Thursday, February 17, 2011

At First Glance: AL West

At a Glance AL West:

Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels

It has been quite some time since the injury to a single player had such a profound impact as the grand slam-celebrating broken ankle that Kendry Morales sustained about 50 games into what looked like a breakout season for him. But that broken bone also busted the hopes of the Angels in 2010. From that point on, everything went downhill. It exposed the lack of a supporting offensive cast around Morales and the need to sure up a thin bullpen.

The Angels made only a few moves this winter, but they were important. Trading for another proven slugger in Vernon Wells, and shoring up the pen by signing Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs, both with recent closer experience, gives Halo fans a sense of relief knowing that if Fernando Rodnet fails as the closer, they have options. The Angels rotation is one of the best in the American league, if not THE best. Which is one of the biggest unknown pieces of information out there. Scott Kazmir as the 5th starter seems much more tolerable then having him on the front end of the rotation. But with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana as the front three, the Angels look stout on the mound this season. Super sleeper Joel Pineiro rounds out the rotation in the four slot. This group will keep the Angels in a lot of games. It would not surprise me to see four 15 game winner's on this staff.

Grade: B+

Oakland A's

This is another team who will surprise many opponent's this year. Why? They have GREAT young pitching. In my opinion this squad will be the best in AL. Last year they had the best ERA as a staff in the AL and with another year in their primes the front four of this rotation is going to blow away the competition. Cahill, Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson can stand toe-to-toe with any front four in the AL. There former ace Rich Harden may end up in the pen if Josh Outman wins the 5th slot after coming off of TJ surgery. Holy Smokes this staff is good! The pen is equally formidable. Adding Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to Andrew Bailey and Michael Wuertz means the starters only need 5 or 6 innings every night, but they will more likely get into the back third of the game routinely, making this bullpen a well-rested behemoth.

But before I crown the A's the runaway champions of the West, there is a major problem...Hideki Matsui is their projected clean-up hitter! They also lost Raj Davis their amazing speedster at the leadoff spot in the lineup to Toronto. This lineup is as bad as the Royals and worse then the Rays. Fortunately for the A's they have a pitcher's park and the staff to match, get ready for a lot of 1-0 games Oakland fans!

Grade: C+

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro, King Felix, and a bunch of young guys. OK let's move on...that could easily be the summary of this team. But I will give the valued Show Fantasy sports readers more then that! Although I grab some nice stats from Jason Vargas as a sleeper last year, it is not a good thing for any team to have him penciled in as the second starter behind Hernandez. But that is likely where Vargas will be come opening day. Unless Erik Bedard pitches well in Spring Tra...nevermind, what was I thinking! Jason, call your family and have them come to the second game of the year!

The most exciting things to watch at M's games when Felix is not pitching will be Ichiro and the influx of young players that will crack this lineup at different points of the season. Will Dustin Ackley make the squad on opening day as the 2nd baseman? He only has Adam Kennedy (snicker snicker) and Brendan Ryan (LOL) to kick out of the way, those two are as big an obstacle as hanging breaking ball was to Ken Griffey Jr. but I still feel like Ackley will be watching from Triple A until mid-May, because let's be honest, this is a business. If money and contract eligibility didn't matter then the Nationals would have started the season with Strasburg on the mound in DC opening day 2010 instead of Livan Hernandez. So Dustin, we will see you in May, buy a one way ticket to Seattle!

Two young players we will see a lot of this year are Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders, they both have a clear path to starting positions at 1B and LF respectively (unless you think Milton Bradley can stay of anger management classes long enough to actually play some ball!). Those two youngsters and Ackley will give the M's much to look forward year.

Grade: D

Texas Rangers

The loss of Cliff Lee is huge in Arlington. The pitching staff made huge strides last season with the addition of Lee, Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson and Neftali Feliz but it is doubtful that such a miraculous turnaround can happen again. Brandon Webb could be a big surprise this year after two years on the DL, but so could Erik Bedard in Seattle. The starting pitching in Texas is not horrible, there is a lot of serviceable arms, and that may be all that is needed with the clear cut best lineup in the West. The Rangers will hit and hit a ton this year. The back end of the game will be crucial and it looks like Feliz will be the anchor there once again. When he enters the game it doesn't matter if it is 1-0 or 12-10, the save still counts. With the soft hitting Mariners and A's and the mediocre bats in Anaheim, the Rangers should be able to cover for their ace-less staff. Think about how good they looked in the playoffs last year. They have added Adrian Beltre and will have Ian Kinsler (hopefully) and Mitch Moreland for the entire season. If Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy, the Rangers should cruise to the NL West title.

Grade: A-

Predictions: I see the Rangers running away with this division and battling the Red Sox for home field advantage in the AL playoffs. I believe the Angels pitching will propel them to the wild card over the White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Tigers. The A's will have a season that is just a few games under .500 and the Mariners will attempt to get Felix at least 17 wins this season. That will be the goal for the M's. Other than that, it will be a long year, but thankfully the Royals and Indians are in the AL!

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